Olongapo Telecom & Information Technology

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

RP may earn another international feat as world’s wireless broadband capital

By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes -- The Philippine Star

The Philippines may soon become the wireless broadband Internet capital of the world, earning another international feat after gaining the distinction as the global text messaging capital.

The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) group, the country’s biggest wireless broadband Internet provider, through a newly established company Smart Broadband Inc., said it already has 85,000 subscribers, even surpassing the 80,000 mark registered by US-based Clear Water, previously considered the biggest in the world.

The feat was achieved despite the fact that providing wireless broadband Internet connectivity to an archipelago is more difficult than providing one to a contiguous area like the US, company officials said.

Smart Broadband Inc. president and chief executive officer Rolando Peña told The STAR that they are targeting to increase the subscriber base this year from 85,000 to over 120,000, as the company continues to invest in network upgrading and to expand to more cities and municipalities in the country.

Smart Bro is the brand for its wireless broadband service. PLDT officials said the increased network coverage of Smart Bro allows the group to gain "first mover" advantages in acquiring broadband subscribers in areas that are currently not covered by PLDT’s fixed line digital subscriber line (DSL) network. Through Smart Bro, Smart Communications has been able roll out Smart Click, a series of mobile Internet cafes housed in air-conditioned 40-foot container van and designed to provide remote communities with high-speed, wireless Internet access nationwide.

PLDT and Smart chairman Manuel Pangilinan earlier said they are targeting to increase the number of subscribers for both wireless and fixed broadband Internet to 250,000 by the end of this year.

For his part, PLDT president and CEO Napoleon Nazareno noted that with the cellular industry past its rapid-growth phase, the need to shift into broadband and data services has become increasingly apparent. "Management understands the complexities and challenges of the changing market environment and we will manage new technologies in the context of our subscribers’ needs," he said.

He added that the ongoing upgrade from the traditional or legacy copper-based fixed line network to the next generation network (NGN) is expected to result in a simpler network architecture of fewer network elements but with a greater capability to provide data services at lower costs.

"The completion of the NGN upgrade will result in immediate reduction in power consumption and insurance costs as well as opportunities to do space rationalization," Nazareno pointed out.

But Peña believes that there is a growing market for Smart Bro, particularly those who want to upgrade from narrowband to broadband. Narrowband Internet has speeds of 180 kilobits per second and below. Beyond this is considered broadband. Smart Bro also expects to attract more subscribers, especially from the student population, when it offers its prepaid Internet service.

PLDT DSL, Smart Bro and PLDT Vibe dial-up Internet service contributed revenues aggregating P2 billion in the first half of 2006, representing a 58 percent growth year-on-year.

Peña, who also heads Smart Communications’ network services division, said that about $2 million was spent to expand Smart Bro’s capacities for certain routers, expanding those which Meridian Telecoms had when it was acquired by Smart. Smart Bro basically uses the network infrastructure as well as the license of Meridian. Part of the amount was also spent for transmissions as well as to provide back ups for certain systems which did not have one, as well as strengthening the existing systems backups. "Over all, the network was revitalized," he said.

According to Peña, they have resolved many of the problems that accompanied the initial offering of Smart Wi-Fi (which was later relaunched as Smart Bro).

For instance, the pipe to the rest of the world which before had the capacity to transmit at speeds of 300 megabits per second, now has an increased capacity of 4.3 megabits per second. Certain business processes for new customers were also improved so that instead of customers waiting for three days to get their new Smart Bro connection, the period has been cutdown to same day connection, Peña said.

Smart Bro now has 2,200 broadband-enabled base stations and 1,200 cellsites providing high-speed Internet access in 368 cities and municipalities, and covering 74 of the 80 provinces nationwide